Cartagena is an UNESCO World Heritage site located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast and is considered one of South America’s top colonial destinations, alongside Cuzco and Ouro Preto.
Though the most touristy place we visited in Colombia, the city has a lot to offer and I was drawn to promises of cobbled streets, sunny plazas and bougainvillea covered houses. The magic of the old town conjures up feelings of romance, mystery and inspiration and our two nights spent here were filled with exploring the maze-like streets, photographing the beautiful architecture and drinking coffee in leafy plazas.
If you are planning to visit Colombia, a stop off in Cartagena is highly recommended. Here are my 7 must-do’s while visiting the city…
1 – Walk Along the City Walls. Cartagena’s Old Town lies inside its 13km long city walls constructed in the 16th century to protect the city after attacks from Sir Francis Drake. The walls are still well preserved and its possible to walk nearly all the way around, providing views into the old town on one side and the ocean on the other.
2 – Wander Around the Old Town. The best way to visit Cartagena’s old town is to simply wander around and see what you discover. As well as impressive architecture and cute cafes there is so much life in Cartagena’s streets so enjoying taking in the kids playing footballs, the fruit vendors wearing traditional dress or the families playing cards outside their houses. There is always something exciting going on no matter what time of day or night!
(cartagena’s cathedral covered with work from local artists)
(flower filled balconies)
3 – Photograph the Bougainvillea Covered Balconies. Almost all the houses in Cartagena’s old town have flower filled balconies spilling out into the street. The colors create a beautiful, vibrant atmosphere and provide some great photo opportunities.
4 – Check Out Some Amazing Street Art. Incredible street art adorns the walls around the cool neighborhood of Getsemani. Still part of the old town, though outside the city walls, Getsemani has a more raw, gritty feel with colorful graffiti covering most of the walls. Join the free Street Art Tour leaving each morning at 10am or walk around alone and see what you discover.
(getsemani street art)
5 – Try Some Street Food. Cartagena has a reputation for serving some of the best street food in Colombia and it’s specialty is Arepas – a deep fried bread made from maize and stuffed with cheese, egg or meat. For something more healthy you can find fruit vendors all over the city. Recognizable for their colorful, traditional dress they sell all kinds of fresh, delicious, exotic fruits.
6 – Soak Up the Shopping. If you love bohemian fashion then shopping in Cartagena is definitely a must. There are street stalls and boutiques all over the old city selling colorful jewellery, sandals and bags. Make sure to check out Casa Abba Boutique for some unique accessories and clothes made by amazing Colombia’s designers.
(casa abba gallery boutique)
7 – Find Local Life Depicted in Scrap Metal. If you want to learn about local life, check out the series of statues dotted around the plazas of the old town. The statues are made to represent the daily life of the Cartagenians with fruit vendors, shoes shiners, dominoes matches and guitar players all made of scrap metal.
(scrap metal street statues)
After ten days relaxing on the secluded San Bernardo Islands we loved the vibrancy and color we found in our two night stop over in Cartagena. Have you ever visited Cartagena? Let me know what you thought in the comments below…